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Lost Without Translation: Agencies Prepare for Encounters with Non-English Speaking

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 35 Issue: 10 Dated: October 2008 Pages: 100,102-106,108
Carole Moore
Date Published
October 2008
7 pages
This article attempts to examine the impact of the increased non-English speaking population in the United States on law enforcement and the necessary steps for law enforcement agencies to prepare for the increased encounter with individuals who speak a foreign language.
In 2006, more than 33.5 million people came to the United States from other countries for temporary visits. That same year 12.1 million foreign-born individuals were considered legal permanent residents of the United States and another 11.5 million were estimated to have entered illegally. These numbers continue to grow. While there are many aspects of this that impact police, one is most identifiable; there is an increased likelihood of encountering individuals who speak only a foreign language. After English, Spanish is the most common language police officers encounter. The translation services model used by many agencies revolves around sworn officers on staff or a list of local residents fluent in a foreign language and willing to translate for the agency when needed. In addition to factoring in the language barrier, cultural barriers and cultural mistakes can escalate problems. Training can teach officers how to reduce the emotional quotient when dealing with foreign cultures, thereby creating an environment in which information is more attainable. Dealing with individuals who do not speak English in the course of an emergency can turn out to be a nightmare if miscommunication takes place; clear communication however, saves lives.


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